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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie (Oprah's Book Club 2.0) Hardcover – December 6, 2012

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Exclusive: Amazon Asks Ayana Mathis

Oprah and Ayana MathisOprah with Ayana Mathis, author of Book Club 2.0's December 2012 selection, The Twelve Tribes of Hattie.

Q. Describe Oprah's Book Club 2.0® in one sentence (or, better yet, in 10 words).

A. An impassioned and powerful declaration: Books matter.

Q. What's on your bedside table or Kindle?

A. I'm often reading three or four things at a time, so I invent odd categories to keep them straight. The bedside table is home to read before-bed-but-not-on-the-subway books (heavy hardcovers like Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies), mysteries/thrillers (like Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon) and things I ought to read but are slooow going (I am now on my fifth month with Augustine's The City of God).

Q. Top three to five favorite books of all time?

A.Very hard to answer! Beloved by Toni Morrison; The Known World by Edward P. Jones; Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson; The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; Cane by Jean Toomer.

Q. Important book you never read?

A. Ulysses. And also Portrait of a Lady, which shames me.

Q. Book that changed your life (or book that made you want to become a writer)?

A. I wrote throughout my childhood and thought I wanted to be a poet, but that was more a fantasy than a goal. I was 15 when someone gave me Sonia Sanchez's, I've Been a Woman—that book was a revolution in my life. I realized that I actually could be a poet, that there were black women who were writing--right then, in that moment.

Q. Memorable author moment?

A. This one? I'm so new to being an author (distinctly different from the solitary enterprise of being a writer) that every moment is unforgettable and stunning.

Q. What talent or superpower would you like to have (not including flight or invisibility)?

A. Anything Wonder Woman can do! Roping bad guys with a lasso of truth, deflecting bullets with my bracelets! Of course, I'd trade all of that for mindreading.

Q. What are you currently stressed about or psyched about?

A. I'm psyched about writing some essays on the nature of faith and belief. Writing essays is a very different process from writing fiction. I'm having a hard time with them, which is incredibly exhilarating and incredibly stressful.

Q. What's your most treasured possession?

A. My grandfather's diaries. He kept them secretly for over fifty years and gave them to me a few years before he died.

Q. Pen envy--book you wish you'd written?

A. Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah or Yusef Komunyakaa's Magic City.

Q. Who's your current author crush?

A. Eudora Welty. There's never a wasted word in her short stories; so much power and meaning packed into a few short pages.

Q. What's your favorite method of procrastination? Temptation? Vice?

A. That's an embarrassingly long list: clothes shopping online, returning clothes I've bought online, cooking elaborate time-consuming dinners, farmer's markets, Netflix Instant (grrr, it's ruining my life).

Q. What do you collect?

A. Ways to procrastinate.

Q. Best piece of fan mail you ever got?

A. Oh dear. I've never gotten any. I'm feeling a little inadequate now.

Q. What's next for you?

A. Trying to find a way into my second novel, the idea is there but the rest isn't. Right now it's a bit like stumbling around in a dark room.

Review

"The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a vibrant and compassionate portrait of a family hardened and scattered by circumstance and yet deeply a family. Its language is elegant in its purity and rigor. The characters are full of life, mingled thing that it is, and dignified by the writer’s judicious tenderness towards them. This first novel is a work of rare maturity. "
            —Marilynne Robinson

"The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is beautiful and necessary from the very first sentence. The human lives it renders are on every page lowdown and glorious, fallen and redeemed, and all at the same time. They would be too heartbreaking to follow, in fact, were they not observed in such a generous and artful spirit of hope, in a spirit of mercy, in the spirit of love. Ayana Mathis has written a treasure of a novel."
            —Paul Harding

“Writing with stunning authority, clarity, and courage, debut novelist Mathis pivots forward in time, spotlighting intensely dramatic episodes in the lives of Hattie's nine subsequent children (and one grandchild to make the ‘twelve tribes’), galvanizing crises that expose the crushed dreams and anguished legacy of the Great Migration…Mathis writes with blazing insight into the complexities of sexuality, marriage, family relationships, backbone, fraudulence, and racism in a molten novel of lives racked with suffering yet suffused with beauty.”
            —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred)
 
“Remarkable…Mathis weaves this story with confidence, proving herself a gifted and powerful writer.” 
           —Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Cutting, emotional…pure heartbreak…though Mathis has inherited some of Toni Morrison’s poetic intonation, her own prose is appealingly earthbound and plainspoken, and the book’s structure is ingenious…an excellent debut.”
            —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
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Product Details

  • Series: Oprah's Book Club 2.0
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (December 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385350287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385350280
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,432 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,019 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ayana Mathis is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and is a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is her first novel.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

387 of 415 people found the following review helpful By Weekly Reader VINE VOICE on December 2, 2012
Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Thought this was a bunch of short stories loosely tied together, but it wasn't. It seemed to start out that way and I'm not fond of short stories, but it was actually the story of Hattie from 1925 to 1980. The narration was mostly through her eyes and sometimes through her children's eyes. But it moved along through time and kept the story riveting. Not sure if I liked Hattie, but I certainly sympathized with her. Not sure if I liked all of her children either. But it's really Hattie that the reader gets to know and reluctantly, at least for me, admire.

Ayana Mathis, the author, writes beautifully. She weaves words like a maestro conductor. Her characterizations have depth and the plot has tension and creativity. A slightly different kind of a book, but one that shouldn't be overlooked.
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139 of 151 people found the following review helpful By Danyw on January 15, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
One star means you "hate" the book. Hate is such a strong word that I can say it's a little "over the top" in how I feel about this book, BUT not by much! You ever hear about a book or a specific artist and feel this overwhelming pressure that You Must Like It or you're not civilized or "cultured enough". I have felt this way before (shout out to Esperanza Spalding) and once again found myself saying I must love this book if Oprah and Essence says so. I mean I'm an African American woman born and raised in Philadelphia how can I not love this book.
At first, I must admit I was smitten, yes each chapter ended abruptly, with no sense of closure just doom and gloom or a feeling of What The... But I kept thinking "It's got to get better and Mathis is surely going to get back to these characters. By 60% into the book (for all my fellow Kindle readers out there) I was more than annoyed and was wondering what is the point to all this misery. By the time I got to the "Bell" chapter I was "speed reading" through each click of my Kindle. A friend of mine, who also read this book and had the same reaction as I did said the book should be called "What Happen...to the Twelve Tribes of Hattie?" If someone out there does know, they sure didn't find out from reading this book.
Mathis needs to find her "voice" as a writer and pick a lane while she is at it. Putting everything in a book including the kitchen sink does not make for a fascinating read. Also to Mathis CLOSURE is a good thing you should try it out in your next book.
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177 of 202 people found the following review helpful By Read-A-Lot on December 11, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The writing here is indeed superb, but the story is a bit disjointed and the treatment of black males in this novel is absolutely horrendous. Here is a quote from USA Today, "With one or two exceptions, the male characters in this book make Alice Walker's The Color Purple read like a celebration of the strong black man." That comes from a woman, and those exceptions she mentions are fleeting at best.

The book starts off with a painful experience, but the writing and situation draws you in immediately. From that opening chapter it seems like everything goes downhill. Hattie never seems to quite recover from this event. Her husband August, is nowhere to be found during this calamity. The subsequent chapters are told from the 12 different children's perspective with varying degrees of effectiveness. Some of the chapters feel unconnected to the book as a whole, predicaments are mentioned and then never followed up on.

I know this book and author have already been anointed as the next big thing, and based on her prose I do understand why. I could only go 3 stars because the misandry was suffocating, and I sincerely hope that doesn't account for all the attention this novel has garnered, I would find that very disappointing.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By E Nicole on December 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Overall it was a decent book with stronger portions and good writing throughout most of the book. I did enjoy the author's use of Hattie's children and grandchildren to tell Hattie's story but through all of that I still don't think I really fully understood what made Hattie tick and why she was so distant and cold. A heartbreaking loss is referenced early in the book but they way the author describes her, it seems that Hattie was this way even before the loss. It made it hard for me to empathize with her character. I felt more for her children if anything.

Each chapter is basically a short story and some were more enjoyable than others. Some of the weaker chapters did not seem to connect back to Hattie or the other chapters from the other children later. I skimmed a chapter that I found uninteresting but I was able to read the following chapters without being confused. There were some chapters about some of the children that I think would make great novels by themselves, such as the story of her son Six who moves to the South to become a preacher or her daughter Belle. The main thing I wanted more of was a better connection of all the children and Hattie through the chapters. That is what is missing most.
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81 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Karen B on December 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
How I love this book! The characters are so alive, the emotions are so real. I often had to stop, re-read a sentence and then just sit there to reflect as I ached for the lives of Hattie and her family. Or I would re-read to savor again a particular passage. Ms. Mathis writes with poetic beauty and a great storytelling style. She skillfully portrays the complexity of the human spirit and presents the characters with love and respect...even when they are behaving badly you can see the fragility of their souls. This would be a wonderful book club book. I plan to immediately read it again and recommend it to everyone. (I could have done without the Oprah notes, though.)
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